Fight or Flight or Fertility
“Maybe you’re just stressed.” Time and time again, seemingly no matter what is going on with your health, professionals and friends alike all seem to lean on stress being the factor for everything from lack of sleep to colds; shoulder tension to fertility.
This general “diagnosis” is often based on the assumption that a decrease in stress will positively affect your life which means you’ll be happier and more emotionally healthy. While this can be true in some cases, the effect of stress can oftentimes go much deeper than this. Stress can affect our physiology, which in turn can affect that way that our body works. Here at the Yinova Center, we take stress management very seriously especially when looking at the role it plays in fertility.
In our founder Jill Blakeway’s book Making Babies she speaks in depth about how stress can impede fertility by actually triggering our fight or flight response. An interesting example of this is looking back to times of war and famine. Historically during these times, reproduction rates declined. Some argue that this phenomenon can be attributed to half the population (historically, the men) being away on the battlefield. While this is certainly part of the explanation, the effects of stress on reproduction is also suspected to have played a role. We can see this more objectively with animals. It’s well known that animals in zoos have a hard time getting pregnant. On a subconscious level, they can sense the lack of space and resources and they respond by not contributing to the population.
Humans react in a similar way. If our bodies don’t feel safe, our fight or flight response is triggered and our reproduction declines. This response prepares our body for danger, meaning that all available energy and blood flow is shunted away from digestive and reproductive organs and into our muscle tissue. Our heart rate and blood pressure rises and our bodies are prepared to either run away from danger or engage in battle. The problem is that our body sometimes responds this way even when the stakes aren’t exactly as high as war or famine. Life stressors such as financial trouble, relationship issues, or even not being able to catch a cab can, in fact, trigger our fight or flight response. The following is a list of bodily responses that happen during fight or flight:
- Acceleration of heart rate and breathing
- Flushed skin or pale skin (or an alternating of both)
- Slowing digestion
- Constriction of blood vessels in many internal organs
- Liberation of metabolic energy sources (particularly fat and glycogen) for muscular action
- Dilation of blood vessels for muscles
- Dilation of pupil
- Inhibition of erection
- Loss of hearing
- Loss of peripheral vision
- Disinhibition of spinal reflexes
It’s not until our fight or flight response shuts off that our rest and digest response is able to kick back in (also sometimes called feed and breed response). This is when blood flow is directed back to our internal organs, causing us to feel safe and peaceful. The following is list of bodily responses that can happen during rest and digest:
- Constriction of pupils
- Decreased heart rate and breathing
- Drop in the blood pressure
- Stimulation of digestive glands
- Stimulation of secretion of saliva
- Increased blood flow to the reproductive organs
- Feelings of safety and wellbeing
There are plenty of things that can assist in switching from fight or flight to feed and breed. Meditation, yoga, and mindfulness to name a few. One of the most effective ways to mitigate stress, however, is acupuncture.
Whether you are trying to conceive, get a better night’s sleep, or just lower your stress levels, the Yinova Center is here to help you take your health in hand and find some inner calm.